Beijing is digging in its heels over the right to conduct research on cloning for therapeutic purposes, having rejected a United Nations declaration calling for a ban on all human cloning. A controversial joint political statement, urging governments to prohibit all forms of human cloning - including techniques used in research on human embryonic stem cells - was handed to the UN legal committee meeting on Friday. Beijing voted against the statement, together with another 34 countries such as Britain, Japan and Singapore. A further 43 nations abstained, while 71 - including the United States, Germany and Brazil - accepted the declaration. Although the non-binding statement will be soon referred to the UN's General Assembly, experts say China's research will continue unabated. The central government has, for a long time, stated that cloning technology will be developed for therapeutic purposes. 'The political statement wants to protect human dignity and life, but that's what we are trying to achieve through our work,' said Duan Enkui, of the Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Zoology. 'And besides, it's not a legally binding convention.' Professor Duan is leading several projects on embryonic biology and genetic development at the institute, while another 30 similar scientific bodies are carrying out research on cloning and genetics on the mainland. Cloning has been a hot topic on the mainland since the late 1990s, when the nation's first cloned sheep was born. At the start of last year, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health came out in support of human embryonic stem cell research for therapeutic purposes. According to their policy, human embryonic stem cells can only come from a small number of sources, such as donors or aborted foetuses, if they are to be used in research. At the same time, its policy banned research on human cloning. Biological ethical analyst Wang Yanguang, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Philosophy, said a consensus had been reached on the mainland that stem cells could be used to assist patients or enhance medical treatment. 'In Chinese culture, a life starts the minute a foetus is born, so from a Chinese ethical perspective, tests on human cells are OK,' she said. 'Aborting a three-month-old foetus is legal and widely applied as a population-control measure, so both scientists and Chinese citizens accept the use of cells taken from an aborted embryo when it's going to keep someone alive.' Ms Wang said most researchers agreed that a human embryo did not feel pain during its first eight to 13 days.